The Workhorse

by Orbie G. Robertson

The H-21, the "Workhorse" they called it and that's how they used it in the 5040 Ops. Sq., at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. Powered by the Wright R-1820, with a supposed operational life of 600 hours. However after 300 hours on an engine, many pilots, when finding themselves confronted with such a seasoned engine found they became uncommonly selfless, willingly deferring precious flying hours to a fellow pilot.

In three short years I had three engine failures in the air, a fourth upon touchdown at Pt.Mackenzie, and a central transmission failure on liftoff at Fire Island. The following incident will illustrate what working the old horse meant and perhaps provide a clue to the frequent mishaps. In the 50s and 60s, Alaskan Air Command maintained R & R camps throughout the state for morale purposes. L-20 aircraft usually re-supplied the one at Lake Louise, about 1+35 northeast of Elmendorf.

On one occasion however, an extended period of bad weather prevented the L-20s from making their usual re-supply run. When the weather broke a backlog of supplies, mostly food had built up which was too big for the L-20 so a helicopter was selected for the mission (?). I was scheduled and the folks at Lake Louise were reduced to eating shoe leather so Herculean efforts were in order. As I was an eager, idealistic lieutenant, with a caring (but not too wise) soul, I allowed Freight to load the helicopter well past max gross weight. The crew chief was in the copilot seat we taxied to the run-up position.

With normal power we couldn't hover. Even with power increased to max and getting the helicopter into a hover, it settled back to the ground as soon as forward motion began. Not wanted to reduce the load, still above max gross, tower OK'ed use of the runway. We started to roll, and at 40+ knots we leapt into the air, at 200-fpm rate of climb! At that rate it only took 2 1/2 minutes to reach cruising of  500 feet AGL. As the fuel went down, power went up and we delivered the goods to the hungry folks at Lake Louise.

I guess Baylor Haynes, Chet Ratcliff, Charlie Weir, and Don Aamodt have all been there also.